Introduction to the Gospels Part 1

Source: Wikipedia


The word gospel derives from the Old English god-spell (rarely godspel), meaning “good tidings” or “good news”. It is a calque (word-for-word translation) of the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion (eu- “good”, -angelion “message”). The Greek word “euangelion” is also the source of the term “evangelist” in English. The authors of the four canonical Christian gospels are known as the four evangelists.

Of the many gospels written in antiquity, only four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical. An insistence upon there being a canon of canonical four, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185. In his central work, Adversus Haereses Irenaeus denounced various early Christian groups that used only one gospel, such as Marcionism which used only Marcion’s version of Luke, or the Ebionites which seem to have used an Aramaic version of Matthew as well as groups that embraced the texts of newer revelations, such as the Valentinians (A.H. 1.11). Irenaeus declared that the four he espoused were the four Pillars of the Church: “it is not possible that there can be either more or fewer than four” he stated, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds (3.11.8). His image, taken from Ezekiel 1, or Revelation 4:6-10, of God’s throne borne by four creatures with four faces—”the four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and the four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle”—equivalent to the “four-formed” gospel, is the origin of the conventional symbols of the Evangelists: lion, bull, eagle, man. Irenaeus was ultimately successful in declaring that the four gospels collectively, and exclusively these four, contained the truth. By reading each gospel in light of the others, Irenaeus made of John a lens through which to read Matthew, Mark and Luke.

By the turn of the 5th century, the Catholic Church in the west, under Pope Innocent I, recognized a biblical canon including the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which was previously established at a number of regional Synods, namely the Council of Rome (382), the Synod of Hippo (393), and two Synods of Carthage (397 and 419). This canon, which corresponds to the modern Catholic canon, was used in the Vulgate, an early 5th century translation of the Bible made by Jerome under the commission of Pope Damasus I in 382.

  • Gospel according to Matthew
  • Gospel according to Mark
  • Gospel according to Luke
  • Gospel according to John

There was also another order, the “western order of the Gospels”, so called because it is typical for the manuscripts which are usually a representative of the Western text-type.

  • Gospel according to Matthew
  • Gospel according to John
  • Gospel according to Luke
  • Gospel according to Mark

This order is found in the following manuscripts: Bezae, Monacensis, Washingtonianus, Tischendorfianus IV, Uncial 0234.

Medieval copies of the four canonical gospels are known as Gospel Books or also simply as Gospels (in Greek as Tetraevangelia). Notable examples include the Lindisfarne Gospels (c 700), the Barberini Gospels, Lichfield Gospels and the Vienna Coronation Gospels (8th century), the Book of Kells and the Ada Gospels (ca. 800) or the Ebbo Gospels (9th century).


Non-canonical gospels

Main article: New Testament apocrypha

In addition to the four canonical gospels, early Christians wrote other gospels that were not accepted into the canon. Generally these were not accepted due to doubt over the authorship, the time frame between the original writing and the events described, or content that was at odds with orthodoxy. For example, if a gospel claimed to be written by James, yet was authored in the second century, clearly authorship was not authentic. This differs from the four canonical gospels which historians agree were authored before 100. For this reason, most of these non-canonical texts were only ever accepted by small portions of the early Christian community. Some of the content of these non-canonical gospels (as much as it deviates from accepted theological norms) is considered heretical by the leadership of mainstream churches, including the Vatican.

The sayings gospel Q

Main article: Q document

The hypothetical gospel Q comprised mostly sayings of Jesus with little narrative. It is presumably the source for many of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew and Luke, and accordingly must have preceded these gospels. It first edition was written c 50-60.

Gospel of Thomas

Main article: Gospel of Thomas

Like Q, the gospel attributed to Thomas is mostly wisdom without narrating Jesus’ life. Some scholars argue that its first edition was written c 50-60, but that the surviving edition was written in the first half of the second century. This would mean that its first edition was contemporary with the earliest letters of Paul the Apostle. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says that the original may date from c. 150. It may represent a tradition independent from the canonical gospels, but that developed over a long time and was influenced by Matthew and Luke. While it can be understood in Gnostic terms, it lacks the characteristic features of Gnostic doctrine. The Jesus Seminar identified two of its unique parables, the parable of the empty jug and the parable of the assassin. It had been lost but was discovered, in a Coptic version dating from c. 350, at Nag Hammadi in 1945-6, and three papyri, dated to c. 200, which contain fragments of a Greek text similar to but not identical with that in the Coptic language, have also been found.

Gospel of Peter

Main article: Gospel of Peter

The gospel of Peter was likely written c 50-100 or in the first half of the second century.  It seems to be largely legendary, hostile toward Jews, and including Docetic elements. It had been lost but was rediscovered in the 19th century.

Infancy Gospels

Main article: Infancy gospel

A genre of “Infancy gospels” (Greek: protoevangelion) arose in the 2nd century, such as the Gospel of James, which introduces the concept of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the absolutely different sayings Gospel of Thomas), both of which related many miraculous incidents from the life of Mary and the childhood of Jesus that are not included in the canonical gospels, but which have passed into Christian lore.


Main article: Gospel harmony

Another genre that has been suppressed is that of Gospel harmonies, in which the apparent discrepancies in the canonical four gospels were selectively recast to present a harmoniously consistent narrative text. Very few fragments of harmonies survived. The Diatessaron was such a harmonization, compiled by Tatian around 175. It was popular for at least two centuries in Syria, but eventually it fell into disuse.

Marcion’s gospel of Luke

Marcion of Sinope, c. 150, had a version of the Gospel of Luke which differed substantially from that which has now become the standard text. Marcion’s version was far less Jewish than the now canonical text, and his critics alleged that he had edited out the portions he didn’t like from the canonical version, though Marcion argued that his text was the more genuinely original one. Marcion also rejected all the other gospels, including Matthew, Mark and especially John, which he alleged had been forged by Irenaeus.

Gospel of Judas

Main article: Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas is another controversial and ancient text that purports to tell the story of the gospel from the perspective of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. It paints an unusual picture of the relationship between Jesus and Judas. The text was recovered from a cave in Egypt by a thief and thereafter sold on the black market until it was finally discovered by a collector who, with the help of academics from Yale and Princeton, were able to verify its authenticity. The document itself does not claim to have been authored by Judas (it is, rather, a Gospel about Judas), and dates no earlier than the second century.


We will begin these studies with trying to actually break them down first as to various points, such as style, characteristic, and audience. It also seems practical to do two studies at once, the first will break down each Gospel into its various subtexts and themes for each book individually. Then a study that harmonizes the four Gospels together, relying on the suggestion of Irenaeus and using the book of John as a filter to read each of the 3 Synoptic Gospels to tell the full story of Jesus Christ.

We will also be borrowing his iconic usage of the angelic beings in Scripture because they acurately show the nature of each book.


The Gospels as a whole


Matthew – He gives us the portrait of Christ as the King.

His book references the first creature – Lionlike

His style – A teacher

His audience – The Jewish people

His emphasis – The sermons of Jesus

His book contains a genealogical record because a King must have one


Mark – He gives us the portrait of Christ the Servant

His book references the second creature – Oxlike

His style – A preacher

His audience – The Romans

His emphasis – The miracles of Jesus

His book does not contain a geneology because a servant doesn’t need one


Luke – He gives us the portrait of Christ the Perfect Man

His book references the third creature – Manlike

His style – A historian

His audience – The Greeks

His emphasis – The parables of Jesus

His book contains a genealogical record because a Perfect Man has one


John – He gives us the portrait of Christ the Mighty God

His book refences the fourth creature – Eaglelike

His style – A theologian

His audience – The world

His emphasis – The doctrine of Jesus

His book contains no genealogical record because God does not have one


Matthew, Mark, and Luke strss the humanity of Jesus

John stresses His deity


About Clint Rodgers

I am a father of 2 wonderful children and the husband of a beautiful woman who has taught me more about compassion for goofballs than I could have ever learned. I have know Jesus for many years but about 5 years ago I truly met Him and now I do my best to follow Him as I walk in this world
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